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With: Henry Gibson, John Saxon, Jayce Bartok, Lara Harris, Scott Lowell, Michele-Barbara Pelletier, Rachel Veltri, Dick Miller, Scott Heindl, Winston Rekert, Himuna Yoshinori, Ryo Ishibashi, Tahmoh Penikett, Tygh Runyan, Amelia Cooke, Luke MacFarlane, Deanna Milligan
Written by: Dennis Bartok
Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, John Gaeta, Monte Hellman, Ken Russell
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images and language
Running Time: 105
Date: 09/12/2006

Trapped Ashes (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Ash' Prey

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This anthology horror film in the style of Dead of Night (1945) featuring the return of the legendary Monte Hellman (The Shooting, Two-Lane Blacktop) -- who has been on "hiatus" for almost 20 years -- seemed like a great idea. But serving all five directors, the lone, first-time screenwriter Dennis Bartok (the former Head of Programming for the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles) turned in a lackluster, disappointing script that not even the likes of Joe Dante or Ken Russell could save. Dante directs the wraparound sequence, in which all the characters tour a haunted house on a movie lot. (Dante regular Henry Gibson plays the tour guide.) Trapped inside, each must tell a scary story to escape; each tale is based on male fears of female sexuality.

Ken Russell is up first, and spins "The Girl with Golden Breasts" about an actress who gets breast enhancements. Unfortunately, instead of giving milk, they feed on blood. Sean S. Cunningham, the director of the original Friday the 13th (1980) is next, with "Jibaku," about the ghost of a Japanese monk that takes over the body of a married woman and emerges during the most inopportune moments. Hellman's "Stanley's Girlfriend" is by far the best, and most low-key segment. It involves a B-movie screenwriter, Leo, who befriends a young and talented movie director named Stanley (that it's Kubrick is definitely implied). Stanley dates a bewitching woman who winds up seducing Leo and ruining the men's friendship. But years later, Leo learns the truth. Hellman approaches the material delicately, quietly, using vivid staging and empty spaces to elicit the movie's most erotic moments. (I'd recommend picking up the DVD just to see this.)

Lastly, the Oscar-winning special effects man John Gaeta (The Matrix) makes his directorial debut with the most disturbing segment, "My Twin, the Worm," about a woman whose pregnancy is shared with an unwanted tapeworm. Dante returns for a "surprise" wrap-up that fizzles out rather than explodes. Sadly, Trapped Ashes is neither particularly scary nor particularly erotic; Bartok didn't really seem to have much of an idea beyond assembling his talented team. Likewise, except for Gibson and the great John Saxon as the older Leo in Hellman's segment, I didn't recognize any of the cast members, and none of them struck any sparks with me. But it's great to see the return of Hellman, even if this film's pathetic theatrical release and dismal reception make it unlikely we'll see much more of him anytime soon.

DVD Details: Happily, Lionsgate's 2008 DVD comes with Hellman's "director's cut" as a bonus, running about 28 minutes and about 6 or 7 minutes longer than the version in the feature (hard to tell, since his footage is split up). It also comes with a Russell's initial cut of "The Girl with Golden Breasts," though I'm not much of a Russell fan. Other extras include a commentary track by Bartok and some of the actors, and short, making-of featurettes.

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